WRAL Investigates

State to investigate locksmith scheme

Posted April 27, 2009 5:55 p.m. EDT
Updated April 27, 2009 7:02 p.m. EDT

— The North Carolina Attorney General's Office on Monday launched an investigation into a bogus locksmith operation recently exposed by WRAL News.

The hidden-camera investigation showed the deceptive sales tactics used by the nationwide operation, from phony Internet ads designed to divert customers from legitimate businesses to out-of-state call centers promising low service fees to desperate people locked out of their homes.

Once the operation dispatches its crews posing as locksmiths, however, the price for the service quickly escalates, the WRAL News investigation showed.

"It's offensive when you see someone who wants to take advantage of someone else, particularly when they're in a vulnerable position," Attorney General Roy Cooper said. "We will do an investigation."

A number of victims of the scheme have responded to the investigation and have filed complaints with the Consumer Protection Division in Cooper's office.

Jamie Gilbert, who lives in the Brier Creek neighborhood in northwest Raleigh, said she had an angry flashback when she saw the hidden-camera investigation last week.

"It was the same guy, and it freaked me out. I was like, 'Oh my gosh,'" said Gilbert, a student and single mother.

Days earlier, she had called the same operation when she was locked out of her apartment. The initial $35 service fee she was quoted jumped into the hundreds as the man drilled out her locks.

"I asked him how much it was. He told me it was $300, and I almost had a heart attack," she said. "I pretty much had a mini-breakdown because of it, because I just couldn't get it off my mind. Then, I saw the special (report). I just felt really violated."

Gilbert said she stopped payment on her check – the man initially demanded cash, but she was able to get him to accept a check – and changed the locks on her door.

Cooper said such complaints filed with the state will be key to the building a case against the operation.

"We want to shut down this type of operation," he said.

He urged consumers to ask to see a North Carolina locksmith license, which is required by law. They also should ask for references, double-check the company's office address and watch out for locksmiths who arrived in unmarked vehicles or without uniforms, he said.